Valpo Voyager

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Category: Cergy Pontoise (page 2 of 2)

All posts from Emily Royer who studied in Cergy Pontoise during the Spring 2011, Semester

One Day in Paris

Recently one of my best friends from home, Cora, came to visit me here! She and her boyfriend, Brian, are both studying abroad this semester and they decided to meet in Paris for a long weekend. I made plans to meet Brian at his train station and help him surprise Cora by picking her up at the airport, as she wasn’t expecting him to get in until the next day. So, I met Brian and we started headed across the city to meet Cora at the shuttle station. (A word of warning, when flying Ryan Air, be prepared to fly into out of the way airports. Example: Paris-Beauvais is NOT in Paris, and there is not a cheap way to get to the city from Beauvais.) Cora’s shuttle from the airport was over an hour late, despite the website’s guarantee that shuttles ran every 20 minutes from the airport. Honestly, we should have known better, this is France after all, mais c’est pas grave. Luckily, Brian grew up in West Africa, and just so happens to be fluent in french, so he figured out what was going on. When Cora finally arrived she was shocked and a little flustered from all the confusion of her trip but almost as happy to see us as we were to see her. On the way back to Cergy she told us all about the issues she’d dealt with flying in from Italy, which is apparently just as disorganized as France.

They're here!

The rest of that night and all of Friday were spent catching up. I had class on Friday, so after I showed them the village and the village bakery, where Cora had her first real french pastry (!!), I gave them some destination options and sent them exploring for the afternoon. Cora is an art major, so when she heard that Auvers sur Oise, the town where Van Gogh is buried and spent the last years of his life, is just a few miles from Cergy she was pretty excited. So, the ever prepared and brilliant Brian found a map, figured out how to get there, and packed water and snacks. I had gone there earlier in the semester and told them it was about a 45 minute walk along the river. They set off, cameras in tow, and were gone for some time. About 5 hours later they returned, absolutely exhausted, telling me it was actually a two hour walk to Auvers sur Oise. Woops. 

The next day we woke up bright and early, grabbed our friend Kody from upstairs, and headed to Paris. Neither Cora nor Brian knew too much about the city, but Cora knew she wanted to see the Louvre. I threw out a few more suggestions to them, and we finally settled on an itinerary:

-Louvre/Tuileries

-Notre Dame/Shakespeare & Co.

– Jardin Luxembourg

-Catacombs

-Eiffel Tower

-Père Lachaise

-Montmartre

These are, in my mind, the absolute, must-see spots in Paris. Unfortunately, as we found out later, there’s just no way to see them all in one day. This is at best a two day itinerary.

The Louvre was our first stop. We tried to get there early to avoid crowds, but avoiding tourist crowds on a Saturday at a world famous art museum just isn’t a possibility. Nevertheless, we managed quite well and spent 3 hours walking around just a few hallways so Cora could see some of the more famous works.

Shortly before she wandered off

This was only my second time to the museum, so we saw many of the things I saw the first time: the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and various pieces by Michelangelo, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and El Greco. As amazing as seeing all of these things is, I think the most fascinating thing about the Louvre is watching the tourists swarming around. We had several run-ins with picture-taking zombie tour groups of every nationality, and after losing Cora, then finding her again, we finally emerged into the courtyard of the palace into the Tuileries gardens.

Brian, tuckered out in the Louvre

By this time, Cora and Brian, who hadn’t had a chance to fully recover from their walk and travels from the last two days, were absolutely exhausted. But I dragged them through the gardens which were really in bloom for the first time of the year. It was just gorgeous! The fountains had been turned on, flowers were in full bloom, and people were everywhere, lounging by the water, lingering in the mazes, sailing toy boats – it was fantastic.

One tired couple in the Tuileries metro station

It was at this point, noticing the time, and seeing how far behind us Cora and Brian were lagging, that Kody and I realized we weren’t going to be able to see everything we’d planned on that day. Instead, we decided to make it to the catacombs before the line got too long there, and then to head over to the Eiffel tower. So, dragging Cora along behind us, we cut out of the gardens to the nearest metro, and headed over to Montparnasse neighborhood to the entrance to the Catacombs.

A rather creepy man at the end of a rather creepy tunnel

Now, let me tell you, my information in my last post concerning the catacombs wasn’t correct. These aren’t Roman catacombs, but instead, these underground tunnels began as quarries.

This well had some sort of appropriately menacing name and purpose. Unfortunately, I can't remember what they were.

Sometime in the 18th century, after a disease outbreak due to a mass grave in another part of the city, it was decided that the bodies in the grave would be transported to the quarries and buried underground. The remains were carted through the city accompanied by priests swinging incense and chanting the last rites.

The first thing you see when you walk into the ossuary.

Later, bodies from several other cemeteries throughout Paris were moved to what is now known as the catacombs. It was opened as a tourist sight in the 19th century, and today, as I was very creepily informed by a guard while looking at a pile of skulls in the ossuary, 6 million people are buried, or rather stacked, in the catacombs. As creepy as it sounds, and it is creepy, this is definitely a must-see, but I’d go during the spring so that when you come up from underground, you walk out to find birds chirping and the sun shining rather than cold and darkness. You’ll need a bit of a pick-me-up afterwards.

"You know how many dead people? Six... million..."

The mile long trail, and the 87 steep, winding steps leading out of the catacombs nearly finished Cora and Brian off. So, when we emerged, we stopped at a nearby market to get fruit for a picnic we were planning under the Eiffel Tower. Then we jumped on the metro and headed towards that symbol of all things beautiful in the world, making just a short detour to grab some baguettes from a nearby bakery.

French marching band, yellow plastic cowboy hats, and tubas. Just an average day at the Eiffel Tower

Yes!

It seemed like the rest of the city had the same idea we did, but it didn’t matter, it was gorgeous out. We had our picnic of bread, cheese, sausage, apples, and wine and laid in the sun talking for hours. Brian and Kody noticed a group playing frisbee and went over to join, while I napped and Cora caught up with her friend, Grace, who had come to meet us. It was just the thing we needed to recharge. And even though I don’t think I could think of a more cliché experience than eating cheese and drinking wine on the champs de mars under the eiffel tower, I can’t help but think that it’s cliché for a reason. It was easily one of the best times I’ve had in the city.

Frisbee?!

Soaking up the sun - post-frisbee

As the sun started to go down, Kody and I realized that there was only one place in Paris where we could see the sunset  that could live up to those last few hours laying in the sun. We rallied Cora and Brian, said goodbye to Grace, and raced to Montmartre to make it in time for the sunset. I assured Cora, again and again, that the walk up the steep hill would be worth it, but I don’t think she needed convincing at that point.

The view of the city from Montmartre at dusk

The way up the hill seemed to be lined with more street performers than usual, and the charm of Montmartre was really in full swing. My friend Ali, who is also a Valpo student studying abroad with the Boston program in Paris this semester (you can check out her blog here), met us at the basilica. After watching a dance troupe perform, we turned around to watch the sun set over the most breathtaking view in Paris. That’s when Brian had a great idea, he pulled a jar of nutella, a bag of crepes, and a knife out of his backpack, and started passing the delicious little things around. Now, these weren’t properly served, and the bottle of wine he pulled out his bag a few seconds later wasn’t of the best quality, and yes, we were speaking english, but there really couldn’t have been a better way to end the day. We stood there talking, laughing, eating, and drinking for quite some time, not wanting the day to end and definitely not wanting to say goodbye. The Eiffel tower lit up behind us, sparkling from the other side of the city. We took one last look and headed down the hill to start the trip back to Cergy so Cora and Brian could get an earlystart home the next day.

Save a day for Montmartre

Sunset and the Eiffel Tower over the rooftops of Montmartre

If you’ve seen the French film Amélie, or know a bit about Paris, you may be familiar with the neighborhood of Paris known as Montmartre. It’s probably most well known for the Sacré Cœur Basilica which sits on top of the highest hill in Paris over looking the city. Though this is easily one of the most breathtaking sites in Paris (both the basilica and the view of the city), Montmartre itself is easily one of the most rewarding ways to spend your time in Paris.

An average day at the Sacré Cœur -tourists, tourists, tourists

I have yet to see this, but apparently when it rains, the basilica shines even whiter

Admittedly, the draw for me to this part of town was to be one of so many Amélie tourists, I didn’t even care about the fact that the Moulin Rouge is right in front of the metro stop. I mean, of course I made a point of seeing it, but it wasn’t top on my list.

Attempting to be Amélie at the Café des deux moulins

I was sure to eat crème brulée at the café de deux moulins (the restaurant where Amélie works in the movie), and then reenacted with a friend and fellow Amélie fan, perhaps a little too enthusiastically, the scene where Amélie has Nino run up the stairs in front of the Sacré Cœur to retrieve his photo album. Now, these were rewarding enough, but the art and generally-in-love-with-everything-quaint enthusiast in me was just enamored by this neighborhood.

The vineyard in Montmartre

One of several street performers on the basilica's steps

Moulin Rouge!

Montmartre used to be a bohemian commune of sorts. The moulin rouge, cafés like the chat noir and the café Lux attracted artists like Toulouse Lautrec, Salvador Dali, and so many other modernist and surrealist influences living in Paris at the time. Housing was cheap, and peers were plentiful. These days, Montmartre is a bit more touristy (ok, a lot more) but artists can still be found lining the streets, painting and selling their works in the market area just next to the basilica.

Yes, this man is juggling bowling pins while balancing a fish bowl on his head

This dance group performs everyday in front of the basilica. They're amazing

The remaining moulin in Montmartre

The word “moulin” or windmill is a theme throughout the neighborhood thanks to the two windmills that used to be working over the city. These days, only one is still hanging around, and you can’t actually get too close to it, but it’s worth checking out if you’re a fellow fan of quaint things. Montmartre is also home to the only remaining vineyard in the city of Paris. There’s a wine festival here every year, though unfortunately it’s in October, so I won’t get the chance to engage in the festivities.

Despite all the views, and all the sights Montmartre has to offer though, this is also the part of Paris I’ve come to love the most purely for personal reasons. Some of my best memories of the city happened on these extremely steep, narrow streets. I’ve heard Vespers in the basilica, conversed with darling women who routinely come with tuna at 5pm to what we’ve come to call “the Cat Forest” to feed its inhabitants, found a scooter, watched the sunset behind the Eiffel Tower, attempted to watch the sunrise after one very long walk, and shared laughs and a meal of sorts with good friends. The Eiffel Tower might be the symbol of Paris for most, but when I think back on my time in this gorgeous city, my time spent on the hill of Montmartre, in the shade of the Sacré Cœur, will be the first to my mind.

Found a scooter!

C’est Pas Grave

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about living in France thus far, it’s to live according to what the French call “le système D” or “let’s take care of it when it happens” “don’t think about it now” and “do it later”. This life philosophy is most commonly displayed in the often used phrase “c’est pas grave” or “eh, no big deal”. I’ve heard this phrase applied to everything from spilled drinks to the postponement of a 50€  payment. Things are flexible here and rarely go according to plan. This is why there’s never a dull moment in exploring the city of Paris. I’ve been several times so far this semester and have yet to repeat an experience. As chaotic as this philosophy may sound, it always seems to work out for the best, let me describe my most recent visit to the city to illustrate this for you:

I had agreed to meet the other students I was going to the city with at 11am in the lobby of our dorm to walk to the train station. For me, this means waking up at 10:45, getting ready hurriedly, grabbing an apple and my camera and walking out the door. However, I was woken up from a phone call around 10 from a Danish friend of mine telling me she was waiting for us at the station. “No, no, no,” I said in extremely groggy morning french, “we’re meeting at 11:20 not 10:20. Little did I know this was to be the first of many miscommunications. 30 minutes later I was informed via facebook that another friend would be late meeting me. When he did finally come down he was the only one ready, so we went to roust the rest of the group. We then discovered that they decided not to go in favor of sleep in homework but made complicated plans to meet them that night in the Latin Quarter (a popular student area). Due to a lack of cell phones, Kody, the boy who was actually still going lent his phone to Jake, one who was staying so that he could call us when he got into town.

Now running 20 minutes late, we set off to meet our Danish friend, Helene, at the station. After buying tickets and getting on the train, we settled down for a 40 minute train ride, planning on arriving in the city around 12:45 or so. At this point, I realized I’d left my cell phone in the room. This meant that Jake couldn’t call us when he got to town, but remembering that we’d set a date and time to meet I shrugged my shoulders with a “c’est pas grave” leaving my  mouth. Then I realized that this also meant we’d be unable to meet a Hungarian friend of mine in Paris as he was going to call me to find us. I felt bad for ditching him, but what could I do about it? “C’est pas grave” I said again and began discussing the coming activities we’d planned.

Map of the Catacombs. I'm not kidding, it's huge. This is what's underneath Paris.

Our original plan was to go to the Catacombs for the day. The tour through the catacombs is interesting of course because of the Roman catacombs underneath the city, but also because the entire city of Paris lies on hollow ground. Two centuries ago, there were several occurences of entire sections of the city collapsing into the area left empty by the Romans. An architect was hired to go through and entirely restructure subterranean Paris. Now, underneath the wide, expansive, tree-lined boulevard lies a veritable mirror of the city streets lined by rock arches supporting the city above. Some of this can be seen on the tour of the catacombs, but most of it is blocked off. There’ve been several people that have illegally gone down to explore, but I can’t even begin to imagine how they’d find their way out. Needless to say, we were excited to see all of this. Apparently, so was everyone else in the city of Paris that day. The line stretched down the block and around the corner. So we decided, rather than spending the beautiful spring-like day waiting in line, we’d walk to the nearby Montparnasse Cemetery where several famous people were buried.

Sartre and Beauvoir's grave in the Montparnasse cemetery.

After this excursion, we thought we’d check out the line at the catacombs again, but accidentally turned the wrong way down the street. “C’est pas grave!” We continued down the street where we found le jardin Atlantique and a museum called Mémorial Leclerc-Musée Jean Moulin dedicated to the Liberation of Paris during WWII.

Kody perusin' the Mémorial Leclerc-Musée Jean Moulin

Film display in the Paris Liberation exhibit

Once we’d thoroughly perused this (free!) museum we thought it might be time to head to a different part of town. So, we jumped on the metro and headed towards another lovely garden area of Paris, Le jardin Luxembourg. However, I realized on the way there that we’d be passing the oldest church in Paris on the metro and begged my traveling buddies to get off with me a stop early so I could see this. They agreed, on the condition that they could get something to eat first. So we stopped at a crepe stand, listened to a street band while we ate, and headed into this 1500 year old church.

St. Germain

Afterwards, we thought we’d better meander to the spot where we were meeting Jake, and maybe stop to get a coffee along the way. Meandering along back roads to see a bit more than just tourist sites, we took our time stopping to take photos, or browsing through stores. Eventually, we walked past Saint Sévrin, another decently old church along our route. I tried to resist the urge to go in, but I just couldn’t do it. I was extremely glad I hadn’t kept walking when I realized there was a choral performance starting in just 5 minutes! I convinced my friends to stay for the concert and prepared myself for a lovely hour or so of beautiful music. Of course, in my expectations I’d forgotten that the French operate differently. The concert began with an hour long lecture about the history of the church. Kody is just beginning to learn french, and though he can follow some conversations, a lecture in an echoing church isn’t the easiest thing to comprehend. So, he napped until the music started while Helene and I tried to follow the man’s somewhat erratic history of the architectural and theological progression of Saint Sévrin. This became a bit tiring after awhile, but it was all worth it when the music started. The program was in French and Latin and I can’t explain to you how much I geeked out at the prospect of translating one foreign language by way of another.

My pre-concert view of Saint Sévrin

By the time the concert ended we had just enough time to see the ruins of the Roman baths at the museum of the Middle ages, and walk by the Sorbonne in the Latin Quarter before we had to meet our friend. This is when more complications occurred. The plan from here was to meet Jake, and our other friend, Berta, grab some dinner, and go to a jazz club for a few hours. However, Berta had yet to get a hold of us, she’d planned on going into Paris with Helene who didn’t get the chance to communicate the fact that she was coming with us. Berta couldn’t answer Helene’s calls due to the fact that Helene was using her Danish number and Helene kept missing Berta’s calls. Add to all this confusion the fact that Berta speaks only spanish fluently and has difficulty understanding french when it’s spoken in a noisy metro station and you have one heck of a jumbled mess. We tried to explain to her we weren’t sure if Jake was even coming, and if he didn’t, it might not be worth her coming into the city at all because we only wanted to stay til 1 am or so and she wouldn’t get there til 9:30 or 10. We did manage to find Jake, but by the time we found him and tried to tell Berta what was going on, we were all so confused that she decided it’d be easier just to stay in Cergy. “C’est past grave” we’ll do it another time.

Then we decided to walk up and down a few streets until we found a french bistro reasonably priced enough to eat at, not an easy feat in Paris. Eventually we were successful and sat down to a fantastic french meal. The way dining works here, you usually order a formule, or a combination of an entree, a main course, and a dessert for a set price. We all decided to do this, ordered a bottle of Côtes du Rhone for the table and feasted our eyes on all the mouth-watering prospects listed on the menu. After some brief translations for Kody and Jake, we all decided and placed our orders. Our entrées arrived and we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Jake got the ever classic soupe à l’oignon or French onion soup, Helene got mignonettes du saumon, or small salmon filets, and Kody and I both got escargots. Don’t wrinkle your nose, these little guys are delicious. They have the consistency of thick shrimp and were just drenched in a garlic pesto and butter sauce. After some entertaining maneuvering involving a kind of clamp, and a mini fork to extract them from their shells, we feasted on this little french delicacy. Let me tell you, I’d never tasted something so wonderful, until the next course that is. I ordered Salmon, which was, of course, drenched in butter and absolutely miraculous. Jake and Helene both got duck leg, which was like an extremely tasty, over-sized chicken leg, but Kody won the award for most delectable dish. He got a peppercorn duck breast. He was nice enough to let me sample some, and I promise you, I’ve never tasted something so incredible. Dessert was of course, fantastic. Fondant au chocolat (it’s like a brownie with a center that just oozes fudge), and crème brulée were Helene and Jake’s choices, while Kody and I each ordered something called Paris Brest. This little piece of heaven is a kind of almond praline pastry with the consistency of a soft scone, it’s shaped like a donut and sliced in half like a sandwich. The center is filled with a praline cream that tastes more like coffee than anything, and then entire thing is topped with caramely maple sauce and just a dusting of sugar. If you can, find one of these. If you can’t, I highly encourage you to try to make your own. I looked up recipes as soon as I got back, this one looks pretty great.

French dining is an activity, not a preface or an afterthought to a main event in the evening. Restaurants are open late, and oftentimes waiters and restaurant owners will encourage you to stay and talk. Once we had to ask for the bill 3 times before they were finally convinced that we were finished with our conversation and our meal and were ready to leave. This meal could be considered somewhat quick though it was at least a 2 hour affair. Afterwards, we took our delightfully full selves to the metro, deciding to skip the jazz club in hopes of getting back to Cergy before 1am. Despite getting separated into two separate train cars (“c’est pas grave”) on the way home the rest of the night was relatively uneventful. Jake and I had a lovely conversation with a french woman before she got off at her stop. I was thoroughly surprised we didn’t run into any issues with transportation out of the city. There’ve been several occasions when I’ve had to jump through quite a few hoops, only to realize that I could have just done something else instead, but “c’est pas grave”.

So there you have it, a day in Paris according to le système D. There were issues along the way, but I must say all things considered it was pretty successful.

Some Characters

Inevitably, each ride on the metro in Paris provides me with at least one larger-than-life caricature of a person. After seeing the movie Amélie I figured all the characters were just exaggerated to match the tone of the movie, but now I realize that’s not the case at all. People here are actually like that.

I made sure to write this sketch of one man watched for quite some time on the ride from the 16th arr to Place de la Concorde:

His whistle gave his presence away before he was actually seen, a breathy, shrill, constant sound like the birds who are so awful outside my window at 3 am these days. He was dressed almost entirely in black with a black felt fedora of good quality, a fox fur scarf, and a prada bag he treated with relative disregard. He carried his coat draped across his arm, an olive colored trench lined with satin paisley. His gloves were the same color as his coat, and he took them off and put them on gingerly. When he did I saw that he had beautifully delicate hands with fingers I’d suspect a pianist to have. He wriggled them gleefully when they were released from their glove-prison and when he covered them again, which he did every few seconds. The man comported himself much like his fingers, gleeful and animated, and walked, or rather bounced, to the rhythm of his whistle. He carried a wooden platform of sorts, 4 unvarnished boards nailed into two other pieces of equal size on either end. He paid very close attention to this unlikely treasure, setting it down hesitantly and glancing at it furtively every so often. He touched it every 5 seconds or so, as if to ensure it’s stability as it leaned against his Prada bag. Eventually, however, the imagined precarious state of its balance proved to be too much for him and placing his glove back on his excited fingers one last time with determination, he placed a firm hand on his prized possession.

Conversations at Home and Abroad

After just a few weeks in France, I can honestly say that I’ve never been in a more diverse environment. An international exchange program called Erasmus allows Europeans to easily participate in exchange programs all over the continent. Thanks to that I’ve met people who’ve come from everywhere from Lithuania to Finland, from Slovakia to Ireland. But it’s not just Europeans studying here in Cergy, my roommate is Japanese, there’s a Nepali student in one of my classes, and just last night on the train ride home from Paris I met a boy from Morocco who attends an engineering school just next to my university.

Now, all this is just great, really. The concept of people from all over the world coming to live and study together in one place is a fascinating one. However, what I find even more fascinating, and a little frustrating as well, is how everyone communicates with each other – or at least attempts to.

My second day here the international student department took us on a day trip to Paris. I spent my time walking around the city with 3 girls, two who speak fairly fluent English and decent French, and a third girl from Spain who barely speaks French and speaks even less English. Our conversations were an almost humorous mixture of French, English, and the little bits of poorly pronounced Spanish I’d picked up from years ago.

Similar situations pop up all the time. My roommate, who is fluent in Japanese, speaks to her Spanish friend in French, and all of her Japanese friends, naturally, in Japanese, while she and I communicate using a really halting mix of French and English. However, it seems as if, overwhelmingly, students are speaking English with each other. The majority of international students are more comfortable with English and will use it over French when given the choice. I can go entire days without needing to speak a word of French to anyone. At first, I wondered how Valerie, the other American girl in my program, was going to get by without knowing any French, but since then, I’ve learned she’s not the only one. Of the 8 Americans studying in the city right now, there is only one other student who knows any French. Inevitably, this means I run into the same problem that Nick was discussing in his blog. However, it also means that I’m being asked quite a bit to interpret for those students who don’t speak French and even sometimes for those French students who don’t speak much English.

Conversations at home have been different as well. I do have access to skype and facebook, but the majority of my conversations with friends and family at home have been through email. After years of interacting with people in almost instantaneous ways through texting or phone calls or face-to-face conversations, I get the option to edit my words, to come back to the email if I want, and then, when I feel like I’ve said everything, I have to wait for a response! Honestly, it’s been good for me. I wrote letters with a very good friend of mine two summers in a row, but I don’t know if that prepared me for communicating in this way with everyone close to me.

The result of all of these language barriers, and all of this adjustment and waiting has been that I’ve had quite a bit of time to myself to think and experience and observe what’s going on around me. It definitely isn’t a bad thing, if I was interacting with people as much here as I was doing at home I think I’d be moving so fast I’d miss something. I wonder why no one tells you these things when you’re preparing to go abroad “Also, you won’t be able to communicate much with people so sharpen your observation skills now and get ready to be reacquainted with yourself!” A Valpo alum, who is currently studying in China advised me to keep a travel journal saying “it’ll make the best souvenir”. I think that’s some of the best advice I’ve received in reference to life abroad. I follow her blog, and regularly find some kind of inspiration and fellowship in her attitude towards travel and life away from home. It’s a different life, but it’s definitely, very worthwhile.

Cooking French

I think a lot of people are under the common misconception that it’s difficult and expensive to cook French food or to eat well in general. Admittedly, I was once one of those people, but after stumbling across this man’s blog and very willingly falling victim to the charms of Julia Child, I’m determined to counter that stereotype and I’d love to share it with all of you! Obviously, as a college student, I’m not the wealthiest woman in the world, and I’ve come even farther from that title since coming to France. Luckily, food is beloved and cheap here and I have free reign to experiment. I’m realizing, however, that the staples of classic French cooking can be had in the States as well without breaking the bank. As I found out last week you can do any number of things with just butter, bread, eggs, and cheese. A few days ago I decided to splurge in order to broaden my horizons for many weeks to come. One of my treasures, and seemingly, the theme for this week’s meals has been a massive 3.5 kg (almost 8lbs!!!) bag of potatoes. That treasure, along with the recipe for a sauce I was taught and wearily comprehended my first day here inspired the following recipe:

What: Gratin Provençal avec Sauce Béchamel

What that actually means: Potatoes, tomatoes, and onions layered, baked together and covered in béchamel sauce.

Serves 1

Before you Start:

You can make this either in the oven or on the stovetop in a skillet. If you’re going to use the oven, preheat it to 350.

I recommend having a baguette or other type of bread to accompany this meal.

You’ll Need:

–       1 Potato, a little smaller than fist-sized, sliced into thin pieces

–       1 Med-Large slicing tomato, sliced thinly

–       half an onion (if that), again, sliced thinly

–       About ¼ cup of a dry White wine

–       Olive oil

–       1 clove of garlic, crushed (just lay the flat part of your knife over it, unpeeled, and hit it with your fist. The peel will come right off)

–       Herbs de Provence (or any of your other favorite spices)

–       Butter

–       Flour

–       Milk

–       Salt

–       Pepper

For the Gratin:

  1. Rub the crushed clove of garlic over the bottom of the pan or dish and set it aside for the sauce if you like. Then pour in enough olive oil to cover the bottom.
  2. Lay down a single layer of potato slices, followed by onions, and tomatoes

    Oh so good.

  3. Drizzle on a little more olive and some of the wine. Season with herbs and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Repeat the layering and drizzling and such until all the vegetables are in the pan.
  5. If making this in the oven, bake uncovered at 350 for about 40 minutes or until the liquids are bubbling and the edges of the vegetables are just starting to brown. If making this in a skillet, cook covered over low heat for about 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

For the Sauce:

I couldn’t tell you how much of anything I used for the sauce as I just went by the texture. But you will need equal parts butter and flour. Melt the butter in a small saucepan or pot on low heat. When it’s melted, whisk in the flour and whisk the milk into the mixture in small amounts until the sauce is combined and looks sauce-like.

Not what I mean by "sauce-like"

I added salt and pepper to mine and when I was done with the garlic clove for the gratin I threw it into my sauce as well. Then, I melted a little bit of cheese into it for added flavor.

The recipe for béchamel sauce is basically just the recipe for a plain sauce. If you’re feeling adventurous try throwing different things in. May I suggest making homemade mac&cheese? Cook some macaroni noodles and melt some cheddar cheese (or any kind you like) into the sauce after you’ve whisked the milk in. They don’t sell mac&cheese here in France so I fully plan on making some with this sauce at some point in time.

That's better

When both are finished, pour the béchamel over the gratin, and mix slightly with the wine and oil in the gratin. Eat well, with a huge piece of bread to soak up any extra sauce, you won’t want to let a drop go to waste. Bon Appétit!

Packing for Procrastinators

Confession:  I did not prepare at all for studying abroad.

My packing buddy

It was my own fault, the combination of bad habits and an entire month off before I took off on the biggest trip of my life gave me the perfect excuse to engage my procrastination skills.  I spent the month before my departure working at a local bookstore and during my downtime I’d make lists of things I needed to do or buy before I left, then would promptly ignore them when I got home. By the time my last week at home arrived, my job had ended and I had no more excuses to ignore what I knew I needed to do. Unfortunately, by the time I finally got up the motivation to shop and prepare, I’d lost all my lists. So, I spent the last week half-heartedly gathering my things in various piles. This was a pretty decent strategy. I separated my clothes into things I was taking with me and clothes I would be taking back to school with me when I came back. This really helped me figure out what I was missing and needed.

Disorganization

Now, my main concern with the upcoming semester and packing was cost efficiency, this meant space efficiency. This whole semester abroad will be lived on a fairly tight budget thus skimping whenever possible is necessary. I determined that I needed to get everything in one suitcase to avoid the additional luggage charge and planned my wardrobe accordingly. I opted for dresses and skirts instead of bringing jeans and shorts. Honestly, I’m not the kind of girl to wear dresses, never have been, but when I started thinking about this trip last summer I realized all the advantages of changing my wardrobe habits. To all the girls going abroad out there: believe me, it was a good decision. Not only did I have the ability to bring more skirts and dresses and thus have more options for outfits, but made packing for multiple seasons so much easier. Layering leggings, tights, and sweaters with dresses or skirts transition very easily from winter to spring to summer clothing, and honestly, I blend in better. People in Europe dress much more formally than people in the states. Jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes are a pretty easy way to be spotted as a foreigner.

A giant roll of clothing

So, I ran out and grabbed a couple pairs of leggings to guard against the month of lingering French winter I’d be experiencing and set to packing clothes. I brought along two pairs of jeans, all the dresses and skirts I owned (not a lot) and quite a few tops. I was very good and decided I didn’t need 11 different colors of cardigans, 10 would do just fine. I packed 3 pairs of shoes, one of which I wore on my feet, deciding I would buy an extra spring/summer pair when I got there, and I forced myself to only bring 5 t-shirts, most of which would be for any kind of exercise I would be doing.  I threw in quite a few camisoles and all of my undergarments to prevent the necessity of doing laundry too frequently. The fewest amount of clothes providing for the greatest amount of outfits and honestly, I think I still brought too many clothes.

I bought huge bottles of any kind of toiletry I needed knowing they’d take up room on the trip over but would provide free space on the way home. Now that I’m here I realize how smart that choice was. Shampoo and similar items are pricier in Europe than they are in the States and I think I’d have a difficult time finding something comparable to what I use at home. I should have packed these in some kind of plastic bag. By the time I got to my room in France and began unpacking I realized that my conditioner had exploded all over my suitcase. It may have actually been a good thing as my clothes were ok, and I salvaged most of the conditioner, the only consequence was the fact that my shoes smelled (and still do smell) absolutely fruity.

Before

The next step was getting everything else I’d bought that wasn’t clothing to fit in my suitcase. A suggestion from my friend who’d just recently come back from a trip to England really saved my life. For some reason I hadn’t heard of the space saver bags everyone’s talking about. They’re just large plastic Ziploc bags that you remove the air from with a vacuum. I bought a box of 3 large bags from Target for around $13 and I could not believe how well they worked! I fit a roll of dresses, the two towels I brought (one to use one to wash) and my roll of tank tops into one bag. You can see how much of a difference they made in my photos. I used my packing buddy as a scale, even though she was terrified of them after I took the air out. All together the bags fit perfectly into my suitcase, leaving just enough room to throw in my shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion and shoes. I also brought along a few small mementos for my walls and, in retrospect, I wish I would have brought more. I recommend bringing a poster or wall hanging of some sort. They’re light and will do wonders for curing homesickness or “oh my gosh what have I gotten myself into?!” freak outs (believe me, I had one).

After

I threw all of my electronics into my carry on along with a couple changes of clothes, travel toiletries, and the two books I brought. It was heavy, but worth it to save the space in my suitcase.

When everything was said and done it probably took me about 3 hours to pack. I made it an all night affair, dragging it out with phone calls to friends and a last minute decision to make cookies for my brother at 4AM. My partner stayed up with me all night and after a one hour nap, we were both just exhausted on the way to the airport.

Worn out after a long night.

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